If you were one of the many people who shook their heads with looks of skepticism when you heard that the Toronto Blue Jays had re-signed Edwin Encarnacion long-term, you can be forgiven. After all, it’s not unreasonable to question why the Blue Jays would spend $27 million on a below-average defender after only half a season of productive hitting.
Blue Jays fans know all too well that one season does not make a player.
Remember when Eric Hinske won rookie of the year in 2002 only never to eclipse the stats in average, home runs and RBI he recorded that season?
But then again the Blue Jays have experienced the coming-out-of-nowhere phenomenon before, with Jose Bautista. After he led the league in home runs in 2010, the Jays locked up the slugger long-term, only to see him do it again the next year and earn a third straight All-Star nod this year.
According to Shi Davidi of the Canadian Press, when the Jays made that deal, general manager Alex Anthopolous said: “We're going to have take chances at times and make moves that may open us for criticism, but we also have to look at the upside of the moves. They may backfire and may not work, but if they hit, we're going to do really well.”
Anthopolous hit on the Bautista deal, and it looks as though he’s hoping for the same with Encarnacion.
The exact breakdown of the contract is slightly back-loaded, with Encarnacion earning $8 million next year, $9 million in 2014 and $10 million in 2015 and a club option in 2016 for another $10 million. Effectively, it is a three-year contract at $9 million a year. The club option in the last year is in keeping with Alex Anthopolous’s MO of having control over his players.
But after only half a year of good baseball from Encarnacion, did Anthopolous jump the gun on this one?
I think not, and here’s why.
If Encarnacion keeps playing at the level he is right now until he is 32 and in the last year of his guaranteed contract, then the Blue Jays walk away with a downright steal. Even if his production slips slightly, the Blue Jays probably still come out on top.
Best of all, had Edwin Encarnacion gone to free agency, someone in the majors would have overpaid based on the season he is currently having, so if you think of the contract as a signing, not an extension, Anthopolous made the right move.
Additionally, with the new compensation-draft-pick rules the Blue Jays would have had to make a qualifying offer—expected to be around $12 million—to be eligible for a compensation pick.
Whereas trading an Adam Lind-sized contract would be downright impossible at this point, if things go sour for Encarnacion and the Blue Jays, the contract is at a reasonable enough of a size that a team may take a gamble on him, hoping to get him back to the production level of this year. That is an ingredient that may become extremely important in the coming years.
Encarnacion’s biggest weakness is definitely in the field.
He’s far from his days of botching ground balls at third, rightfully owning the nickname “E5,” but he’s not out of the doghouse yet. He does not play as many games in the field, and he plays a much less demanding position, but he is still viewed as a defensive liability by many.
He did not earn this contract by wielding a Gold Glove, though; he earned it by wielding a hot bat. He gets paid to hit, and he’s doing just that.
The signing of Encarnacion was also extremely timely.
It was right before trade talks heated up and sent a message to other clubs—and fans—that the Blue Jays are not going to wave a white flag this year.
Rewarding an extremely productive hitter right when you need him to come through the most is not only smart in a business sense but it is smart psychologically. Signing him to the contract not only will let him know that he’s being appreciated by the management but will also allow him to keep hitting baseball’s worry-free.
It looks as though it's working, too, because since signing the contract, he has batted .357 with three home runs and nine runs batted in, in nine games.
Alex Anthopolous made a good choice re-signing Edwin Encarnacion for $27 million across three years.
This was only one piece of the try-and-get-a-wild-card-spot puzzle, but it was a good start.
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